HCSO to release body cam footage to plaintiff alleging Fourth Amendment violation
The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office has been ordered by a judge to provide dash and body cam footage to a man who claims his Fourth Amendment rights may have been violated.
Monroe A. Miller Jr. petitioned the court on Nov. 22 to obtain the footage. On Dec. 14 following the hearing and his review of the recordings, visiting Superior Court Judge Steve Warren, of Asheville, published his order granting permission, albeit with some noteworthy restrictions.
On Nov. 9 at about 1:25 p.m., two Haywood County Sheriff’s deputies visited Miller’s property along with the plaintiff in an ongoing civil dispute — his sister, Linda Overcash — as well as her attorney, Mark Melrose. Their civil dispute is over how to split up their late father’s estate. Monroe Albert Miller, who passed away on Jan. 20, 2017, is assumed to have left behind a good deal of money, along with a Haywood County home appraised at over $1 million dollars.
“… he was co-founder of one of the earliest Computer Companies, Electronic Associates, Inc., a NYSE listed company located in New Jersey, where he designed and manufactured many of the first electronic computers used in industry and the early space program,” his obituary reads. “In 1955, he founded Milgo Electronic Corporation, a company heavily involved in tracking and communication in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs. He and the company were also instrumental in the development of the first, and subsequently, the high speed modem. He served as President and Chairman of the Board until all its NYSE listed stock was acquired in 1977. Milgo's Miami, Florida facility employed more than 2500 and also carried out world- wide manufacturing and marketing operations in many foreign countries.”
The group was there to survey the property. Also present on Nov. 9 was Terry Ramey, a Haywood County commissioner and staunch ally of Miller, as well as Miller’s attorney, Ed Bleynat.
The petition notes that after the visit, on that same day, Miller requested the recordings from Wilke. That communication was entered into evidence as part of the petition.
“Deputies appeared indoctrinated by Mark Melrose on the aspects of the order issued,” the initial request reads.
“Deputies kicked Terry Ramey, Haywood County Commissioner, out of the dwelling also, even though he was acting as my agent, which was allowed in the Order,” it later reads.
A Nov. 15 response from Haywood County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Gina Zachary notes that because there was no court order mandating the office provide the footage and audio, it could not be turned over at that time. A week later, Miller submitted the petition to the court.
Also included as evidence in the petition is a series of messages between Miller and Wilke from the evening of Nov. 9. In those messages, Miller alleges the deputies’ violated his rights.
“You have made serious, unfounded allegations about my deputies and any further contact will need to be from your legal counsel to ours,” Wilke replied. “Your multiple public information requests will be handled in as reasonably prompt manner as possible.”
Miller’s chief complaint is that he and Ramey were “forced to remain outside” while the others had “full run” of his home. The petition also notes that the order for a law enforcement escort during the survey said that one deputy would be present, but two showed up.
“In order to keep the peace and allow a thorough inspection of the property the presence of a uniformed law enforcement officer would be helpful,” that order reads.
The order also says that Overcash and Melrose should be allowed “adequate space to engage in private conversations during the inspection” and that Miller, Ramey and Bleynat “shall remain 50 feet or more from the Petitioners and their attorneys while the Petitioners and their attorneys are outside the dwelling during this inspection.”
“The two deputies violated my Fourth Amendment rights,” the petition claims. “There was no reason, nor was Mark Melrose authorized, to bring two deputies for this visit. He took a Haywood County Sheriff’s Deputy off-line for no good reason, therefore interfereing (sic) with the operation of a law enforcement agency by hindering and obstructing the second law enforcement officer in the performance of his duty.”
According to court documents, Miller submitted a complaint against Melrose to the North Carolina Bar Association, something he has done in the past against multiple local attorneys. For his part, in an email to Bleynat, Melrose alleged that Miller behaved inappropriately and without an understanding of proper procedure when he showed up at Melrose's office seeking a signature for the receipt of a $5,000 check he was ordered by a judge to provide to cover administrative costs related to the dispute over the estate.
“Your client just came to my office trying to get my staff to sign a document indicating receipt of a check,” the email reads. “I did not speak with him. He was instructed by my staff to call your office. Please advise Mr. Miller to never come to my office again, and advise him that I am not legally permitted to talk to him nor is my staff.”
In court on Dec. 14, Wilke was accompanied by members of his command staff, as well as Zachary. While Ramey didn’t accompany Miller, he did show up a few minutes after the hearing began. Neither side was represented by an attorney that morning. The hearing was the first of the day in Haywood County Superior Court, and when Warren took the bench, he brought Miller and Wilke up to argue their positions, noting that while he was called in the day before to review a case he wasn’t familiar with, he’d made time to review the petition. He went through state law outlining the procedure for a person to obtain law enforcement agency recordings.
That statute dictates that the court must consider a few things.
First, the person requesting the recording must be authorized to receive it. In this case, because Miller is depicted in the recording — as stipulated by Wilke in court — he is authorized. Next, the judge asked whether the recording may contain confidential information. It was acknowledged by both parties that it likely included conversations covered by attorney-client privilege. Miller agreed that audio in such segments could be redacted, which Warren said rendered that issue moot. Other concerns were whether the recording could reveal information that is highly sensitive or personal; if the disclosure could create a serious threat to the “fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice”; or if its disclosure could jeopardize an active or inactive internal or criminal investigation. It was agreed that none of those would be an issue.
Wilke voiced concern that it could be technically cumbersome to redact the audio from the recordings while maintaining their integrity. In addition, according to statute, the disclosure of the recordings can’t jeopardize the safety of a person, nor can it harm anyone’s reputation. Wilke said that Miller frequently uses a blog he has maintained for several years to launch personal attacks against numerous individuals.
While the sheriff said he’d love the recordings to be made public because they’d “refute the claim that we violated Mr. Miller’s Fourth Amendment Rights,” he was concerned that Miller would use parts of the recording out of context to attack his deputies’ character and reputation. Warren addressed this in the order. First, he listed specific segments of the video that contain conversations covered by attorney-client privilege for which the audio must be redacted. He also gave Miller strict orders for how he can use the recording, once released to him.
“No portion of the released videos may be published other than in a pending court proceeding,” it reads, “or to any party to any current or future lawsuit or witness is (sic) said lawsuit who are all hereby ordered not to publicly disclose the contents of said video. Said Order is punishable by contempt.”